Wonacott_CieGames_RacingRivals_Screenshot08There is certainly no shortage of free-to-play iOS drag racing games on the App Store with at least four new drag racing titles launching last Thursday alone. However in this crowded pack of racers, Cie Games and Nitto Tire offer up a new and much more engaging experience, boosting Racing Rivals ahead of the pack.

Before I get into the meat of the game and reveal exactly what gives Racing Rivals an edge over competitors (hint…the title of the post already gave that away), lets look at the basic game play. At its core, Racing Rivals is a game of reflexes and reaction time. Players select one of the beautifully rendered vehicles from the showroom floor or their own garage and then head out to the drag strip. Drag races are started using a device called a “Christmas Tree”, which signals the start of the race with a series of three yellow lights followed by the all important green “go” light. The key to winning is to get a great start off the blocks which will help carry you through the rest of the rather quick race ahead.

Once you are speeding down the strip, you don’t need to worry about steering, you simply have to focus on shifting. Blue followed by green lights indicate the best time(s) to shift. Tap the shifting paddle at just the right moment (green light) for a perfect execution. Well-timed shifting is crucial to maintaining smooth and constant acceleration and getting your car across the finish line first.

Wonacott_CieGames_RacingRivals_Screenshot19Unlike CSR Racing (arguably Racing Rivals’ biggest competitor), in Racing Rivals, YOU are responsible for triggering the launch, which requires precision timing and quick reflexes, and can make or break a race. Attempt to launch too early and you’ll fault, instantly losing the race. Wait too long and even the best shifting in the world may not be enough to help you make up lost ground. For me, this is one of the key distinguishing factors that makes Racing Rivals a more challenging and engaging experience than other games I’ve tried in this genre.

Individual races only take about 15 seconds or less, but in-between challenges you’ll want to upgrade and repair your vehicle. This is a free-to-play game, so there are in-app purchases and two types of currency. However, Cie Games has been very liberal when doling out the non-premium currency (‘cash’) which lets you buy many of the vehicle upgrades.

The premium currency (called gems) on the other hand, is a little more difficult to come by freely, but there are quite a number of challenges you can complete to earn it. It is mostly used for unlocking additional vehicles, speeding up the wait time for repairs, and tuning up your vehicle for a temporary multi-race increase in horsepower. I’m sure that some players will be disappointed to discover that many of the games 40+ licensed vehicles (including McLaren, Subaru, Dodge, Mitsubishi, Ford, RWB, Scion, BMW, Acura and SRT) require gems to unlock, but it is to be expected given that the game is free-to-play and these are licensed properties.

Wonacott_CieGames_RacingRivals_Screenshot11The three vehicles which can initially be purchased with the cheap currency (Scion TC, Honda Civic SI, and Dodge Dart Rallye) are fully upgradeable and raceable and can be used quite successfully in both the single-player campaign and multiplayer game modes. I saw plenty of players sticking with the stock vehicles. Unfortunately once you choose your initial car, the other two unselected stock cars will only purchasable with gems, so choose wisely. However, if you successfully complete the Class Tournament for your current class of car, then you will unlock the ability to purchase any car in a class below your current class for cash instead of gems. Though winning a Class Tournament is not easy and it took just about every upgrade to my Scion TC (plus a 5 gem boost) to get it powerful enough to beat the final racer.

Buying other vehicles in or above your current class can and will get expensive. Prices vary, but the least expensive cars will cost you a minimum of $1.99 worth of gems all the way up to $30 worth of gems for the most expensive vehicles including the 2013 SRT Viper GTS-R and the 1993 RWB Ramintra 993.

Unlike with Real Racing 3, in my experience with Racing Rivals thus far, I haven’t felt in any way as if the game has been severely crippled to force me to spend money on gems. That being said, if you do choose to ride things out in one of the stock vehicles you will need to be careful when picking your battles. While there are plenty of competitors with the stock cars, it is probably best to avoid racing for money against the higher-end cars.

The team at Cie Games has done a really nice job of making the game very accessible to free players while still dangling tempting paid carrots. Would I like to own all of the shiny new cars…sure, but at this point I’m still having plenty of fun w/o spending a dime. The wait time for repairs is not very long at all, and can be put off for quite some time. As you start to purchase the more expensive items, these wait times do gradually increase, but more as a means of keeping the players with the best vehicles from pwning all the other players in one fell sweep.

racing-rivals_604186826_ipad_04.jpgNitto Tire is an equal partner in this gaming venture and their tagline is ‘Fueled By Enthusiasts”. Racing Rivals’ massive upgrade system proves that this mantra has been taken to heart in the digital world as well. You can upgrade every system of your vehicle including the Wheels, Tires, Paint, Aerodynamics, Chassis, Conversion, Drivetrain, Engine, Exhaust and Intake. And each of these has at least three to five sub-systems to tinker with. So if you are a car enthusiast, you are going to have loads of fun digging into this particular element of the game. I myself am not a car guy, and so I found this level of detail in the upgrade system to be a little intimidating at first. Fortunately Cie’s own CEO, Dennis Suggs, offered up some helpful pointers of where to start. The first upgrades you’ll want to buy are: ‘weight reduction’ under the Chassis Upgrades and also be sure to upgrade your transmission. Also I’d highly recommend buying the Nitrous Oxide Kit ASAP and triggering it as soon after ‘launch’ as possible for the best results.

Upgrading your car regularly is not only the key to winning races, it also has a side-effect of increasing the games’ mechanical level of difficulty, keeping things interesting and challenging even as you get better at the game. For example, upgrading your drivetrain increases your shifting speed, which means you’ll have less time between shift lights so you’ll be able to shift faster, but it also means you’ll have to be much quicker with your reaction time to up-shift while the green ‘perfect shift’ light is still illuminated.

racing-rivals_604186826_ipad_01.jpgThis finally brings me to the biggest and best benefit of Racing Rivals (over its rivals) and that is real-world, real-time competitors.

You see, instead of relying on ghosts or AI players, you are racing against real live people, in real time, from across the globe and the experience is smooth and seamless, with only a few seconds required to find a new challenger in the game’s lobby. It is this human element that allows Racing Rivals to excel over its competitors, because humans are unpredictable. There is an optional betting mechanic where you can wager on your races and even put your vehicle’s pink slip on the line. However, be careful, because competing against human players also means that you may be hustled. This human component adds a whole new social aspect to the genre that has been missing as you can challenge your friends, make new friends and even form your own team.

In Conclusion

Cie Games and Nitto Tire, have coupled their racing know-how with their years of game development experience to craft an authentic mobile drag racing experience that stands out among a crowed field of eager hopefuls. Racing Rivals is a gorgeous looking game built by drag racing enthusiasts, but playable by anybody. While the game’s deep upgrade system will no doubt appeal to other car enthusiasts, Racing Rivals’ challenge to execute a perfect launch coupled with real-time, human multiplayer match-ups and daily challenges will entice all types of competitive gamers to keep coming back for more. Minimal waiting between online-races, and an offline-accessible campaign mode make this a fun freebie players can enjoy anytime and anywhere.